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Subjectivity in Stone Age art works such as figure stones, engravings, sculptures, effigies and curated manuports. See how images and icons have been realized in portable rock media since the dawn of humanity. Here, archaeologists and art historians are becoming aware of these forsaken artifacts. “And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing." -in W. Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1599.

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    Lost Valley archaeological site, #36CU0190, finds by Gary Yannone, et. al near Carlisle, Pennsylvania

    The Lost Valley Site has been lost to a real estate owner change. The site survey archaeologists have lost access to the site and only their preliminary observations have been recorded. The site was producing some very interesting visual objects including this boulder with a human face likeness.

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    A brief visualisation of an exotic stone found at a 15,000-year-old hunter-gatherer settlement in Jersey. The site, Les Varines, offers great views over landscapes now drowned by the English Channel. It is located in the Jersey parish of St Saviour and has produced over 5,000 scattered stone artefacts during the past five years of excavation, but in the summer of 2015 the team unearthed denser concentrations of tools and burnt bone and, for the first time, fragments of engraved stone. These are currently under study in an attempt to unravel the significance of these unique finds.

    Experts are closely examining three exotic stones found in a trench corner during the latest excavations in the five-year project, believed to represent “sophisticated” stone age technology or works of art.
    “Incised stones can be common on Magdalenian camps. Many are known from sites in the Germany and the south of France, where they are often seen to have a magical or religious use," says Dr Conneller.
    “They show clear incised lines consistent with being made by stone stools, and they do not have any obvious functional role. Engraved works of abstract or figurative art on flat stones are part of the Magdalenian cultural package. One exciting possibility is that this is what we have here.”

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    Jason Lamont finds, Hardin County, Tennessee, along the Tennessee River

    Side 2

    Box highlights lips and mouth full of teeth. This very same kind of 'tooth detail' is also seen on sculptures from The Old Route 66 Zoo in Missouri and helps confirm this, and likely the companion find, are manufactured stone faces produced within a Stone Age cultural framework.

    Teeth and lips detail

    Profile view of both figures

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    'Lion head with fluted whiskers'
    Tony Holmes finds, hilltop site on his property in Dallas County, Texas

    Tony writes "Note eyes nose and lips on right side.  Another eyes nose and lips lower right.  By turning stone 90 degrees to left, you then have what appears to be an elephant trunk down the left side."

    Photo rotated 90 degrees. Ken Johnston illustration of mammoth figure facing left with human facial profile on its back. Tony Holmes's independent observations here of the human and elephant imagery are similar to those seen in several other examples on this blog.

    "Note the face 2/3 of the way up the left side looking out to the left.  There are multiple faces on either side of this stone." (7.5 x 5.25 inches)

    Tony has identified human face figurations on this handaxe which is a documented art motif of the Old World Acheulean tradition (James Harrod, The patination on this tool implies a very old age.

    Can you see a skull-like face 'mask' in the lower right of the hand axe?

    Side 2 of the Tony Holmes hand axe with his illustration of one the faces on the edge.

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    'Mammoth and feline combination sculpture' interpretation by Ken Johnston

    Rock collected by Anonymous near Saddle Mountain, Oregon. The stone material is identified as 'agatized peat bog'

    Illustration of a ground mammoth 'eye' in correct anatomical position with feline head on the mammoth's posterior, looking in the opposite direction.

    If one considers a body attached to the head of the feline, the mammoth's head dome becomes the raised haunches of the feline, perhaps in the lumbar lordosis position of a cat in estrus. The feline's 'tail' is also the 'trunk' of the mammoth.

    There appears to be a feline depicted in a carve-out on the side of the mammoth, perhaps showing the feline as a newborn or 'in the womb.' Its head is surrounded by the the stone coloration of red and deep purple.

    Another animal head figure visually 'nested' within the sculpture.  It is located just below the mammoth's 'eye.' The mammoth's eye is seen as a possible right ear in the upper left of this illustration. This animal face resembles 'bear' in the illustration but it is also a possible feline for its maker.

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    'Smiling human face on back of crystal-studded mammoth figure'
    Teresa Stamey find, Hudson, Florida, 3cm
    "I literally thought I was going crazy when I started finding all these different stones that look like one or more animals, fish humans etc.. The first one was one that looked like your posting 'Pissy Birds'. I found a site Collectors Weekly and put it on. No comments except they liked it which didn't tell me anything. Then I found your site after so many searches. I knew I wasn't crazy then. Since finding the first rock I have found way over a hundred. I have fish, fish heads, bears, camel heads, gator heads, wolves  etc.. I'm sending pics to see what you think. I really appreciate you looking at the pictures and any information or advice you can give would greatly be appreciated. Maybe I can get my husband to quit calling me the rock lady. By the way we live in Hudson, Florida. Thank You so much for your time." -Teresa Stamey
    The Ice Age artist was likely attracted to the crystals on this stone. The natural shape of the stone also presented a mammoth body shape including a 'trunk.' A human face was manufactured on the back of the mammoth to complete this previously described motif. The human and the mammoth share the same forehead as is seen in other North American examples including the posting just prior to this one.

    When the human face imagery is rotated 90 degrees right, a mammoth figure facing right may be seen. I have circled its approximate eye. In this consideration, the mammoth may be seen with the human face on its back facing skyward. This motif was also seen just two postings ago.

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    'Bird in left profile'

    Adam Arkfeld find in his mother's garden on the Arkfeld farm property at Clear Brook, Virginia. The bird head is at left and tail and tail feathering are at far right. Sculpture on limestone plaques like this is common in portable rock art but still unrecognized by American Archaeology. The shape of the stone's profile has been trimmed and the surface sculpted.

    Adam's mother does not discriminate against Stone Age bird figures but rather finds them just as suitable as a modern ceramic bird figure for display under her table lamp.

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    'Two hominin heads joined together at the back and facing in opposite directions'
    Jason Lamont find, Hardin County, Tennessee, from his property along the Tennessee River at a confluence with a creek

    In a portable rock art context Jason identified this as a rock with two faces on it, one looking right and one looking left. Paleolithic sculpture author Pietro Gaietto of Italy has described sculptures like this, sometimes with juxtapositions of anatomically modern humans with more archaic human forms. 

    As Pietro Gaietto has described, I propose this Tennessee sculpture depicts a modern human face looking left and an archaic, or more robust, human type looking right with depiction of a brow ridge and more of a sloping forehead.

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    'Zooanthropomorphic head in right profile view'
    Mark Gafkjen find, Minnesota River valley near Minneapolis

    As a rock and mineral collector, Mark has identified numerous portable rock art figures in his locale which cannot be accounted for by natural coincidence. Mark uses a microscope to evaluate rocks for evidence of human modification.

    Mark's identification of an anthropormorphic head figure with evidence of human modification is compatible with animal and human head forms as described on a gradient by R. Dale Guthrie in his book The Nature of Paleolithic Art.

    When rotated 180 degrees the zooanthropomorphic head becomes a feline head looking left.

    'Petrified wood human face mask'

    In this view of the stone is a human head where the nose line splits two facets of the stone. Each of the visible facets has one of the face's eyes.

    Circled in this illustration is a carving of a human face nested within the sculpture.

    Close up of the little human face carving

    Zooanthropomorphic head in right profile becomes a feline head in left profile when rotated 180 degrees. Click photos to expand.

    When the zooanthropomorphic head is rotated 90 degrees on its way to the lion head, it presents another clear human head left profile figure compatible with the R. Dale Guthrie Paleolithic human head continuum. (Guthrie image reversed to face same way as rock image for ease of comparison.)

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    'Human face with prominent brow ridge'
    David Von Canon finds, west Missouri and Arkansas border area

    These are candidates for petrological examination for evidence of Stone Age human modification. If Archaeology operated as a science, it would direct fair evaluation of finds such as these rather than summarily dismissing them. If people were modifying stones to create human face likenesses, the next questions are "who?" and "when?" and "why?"

    The anecdotal density of the number of people in the Arkansas/Missouri area who report suspected portable rock art finds more likely reflects a regional pattern of a set of pre-historic culturally mediated art behaviors than a modern day regional propensity toward pareidolia.

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    'Stone head statue (smiling view)'
    Becky Mills finds, Texas

    "My friend and I have found hundreds if not thousands of these in a couple of creeks close to where we live and are not sure what to do with them. We thought you may be interested." -Becky Mills

    'Stone head statue (scowling view)'

    Modified pebble-to-face

    Modified pebble-to-face

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    'Human head left profile with eye and with sets of parallel incised lines'
    Jason Lamont finds, Hardin County, Tennessee, along the Tennessee River

    The reflective or sparkling inclusions in the stone may have inspired its use for an iconic sculpture.

    This is a 'human/mammoth combination sculpture' where the two are sharing foreheads, a North American Paleolithic art motif described on this blog. There are two similar worked features in the stone to serve as the eyes of each. Click on the photos to toggle between the illustrated and non-illustrated versions.

    When rotated 90 degrees left the human head profile becomes a mammoth profile facing left. This kind of optical illusion is achieved by focusing one's visual attention to see the desired image. The 'eyes' are the visual ques for each of the images. The idea of the human and the mammoth sharing foreheads was a significant one to North American Paleolithic peoples.

    Eye, nostrils and mouth on head shaped stone

    Worked stone heads from the site identified by Jason

    Chert tool found among the art

    Face with two eyes, nostrils and mouth, nested in the corner of this stone as if in the wide open mouth of a larger creature.

    Depiction of larger creature (snake?) head left profile with the 'little head in its mouth'

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    'Shiva stone head'
    Thath Chanuhacha collection, Bangkok, Thailand
    Thath writes: Dear Ken, I just came back from holiday in Vietnam...This time I discovered a river stone from the area of Hoa Lu, Tam Coc or Halong Bay on land. The place is considered the most beautiful scenery of rice field in Vietnam. On a river trip by rowing a small boat and on approaching a cave I spotted a peculiar large pebble in the crystal clear water which is flowing into the cave. When I picked it up it turned out to be like Shiva head and the stone is very beautiful when reflected with sunlight... This face happens to be exactly in the style of the Champa's Shiva image.

    Separately from Thath's interpretation, Ken Johnston illustration of a human head facing left split with a primate or hominin head on the opposite side in right 3/4 profile view. The approximate facial features have been added by the illustration to facilitate interpretation of the details of the two joined heads, a sculptural Janiform. The sculpture may have been sharper at one time and become more water worn and visually ambiguous in the river flow into the cave.

    The two-headed motif of the Vietnam sculpture is the same as the motif on this Tennessee sculpture featured on 30 November. In both, the more robust face with the brow ridge is seen on the right in 3/4 profile view.

    A recent paper suggests the possibility archaic human forms survived until more recently than previously thought. December 17, 2015, A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China


    The number of Late Pleistocene hominin species and the timing of their extinction are issues receiving renewed attention following genomic evidence for interbreeding between the ancestors of some living humans and archaic taxa. Yet, major gaps in the fossil record and uncertainties surrounding the age of key fossils have meant that these questions remain poorly understood. Here we describe and compare a highly unusual femur from Late Pleistocene sediments at Maludong (Yunnan), Southwest China, recovered along with cranial remains that exhibit a mixture of anatomically modern human and archaic traits. Our studies show that the Maludong femur has affinities to archaic hominins, especially Lower Pleistocene femora. However, the scarcity of later Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic remains in East Asia makes an assessment of systematically relevant character states difficult, warranting caution in assigning the specimen to a species at this time. The Maludong fossil probably samples an archaic population that survived until around 14,000 years ago in the biogeographically complex region of Southwest China.

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    Homo heidelbergensis face on tool handle by exploiting crinoid stem fossil inclusions as 'eyes'

    "Circa: 600,000 - 400,000 years B.P Made by Homo heidelbergensis. Found at Northfleet, near Swanscombe, Kent. The tool is partially bifaced and worked with a curved distal point, most of the tool remains cortical for grasping. This tool probably belongs to the Clactonian phase of the Lower Palaeolithic. It is in superb condition with clear working detail and even patination. Length cm: 8.5, Width cm: 3.5, Thickness cm: 4, Weight grams: 128"

    I propose the human face icon in the top photo is created and included in this tool by the maker to add an enhanced visual dimension or animation to the stone. The nose and mouth features have been deliberately created to make a simple face on the edge of the tool where the two fossil inclusions become the 'eyes.' It appears the same crinoid stem is exposed on the two sides of the stone. It could be described as the known motif "decorated handaxe in the Acheulean tradition." Other examples also exploit fossils as facial features. The face is located on the functional handle of the tool which would come into contact with the fingers while the tool was in normal use.

    The nose in this example is a regular circle which required focused directed stonework. The mouth is rectangular with a 90 degree intersection of lines.

    Cultural imperatives may have suggested the tool maker select this stone for a tool because of the unique fossil exposure which could make for easy decoration of the tool edge with a simple facial likeness.

    The November 2014 discovery of a shell from Java which had been engraved by Homo erectus has changed some mainstream attitudes regarding the possibility of art behaviors by early humans who in some circles are still characterized as ape-like. Just like the shell in the British Museum, we can look to current collections of "tools" to explore the possibility of the artistic inclusion of images and icons in these very old artifacts.

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    'Mammoth left profile with anthropomorphic face in lower left quadrant'
    Jason Lamont find, Hardin County, Tennessee

    As seen before from Jason's site, the mammoth and the human are sharing foreheads. The simple human face has an eye, nostril and mouth feature in the stone. The mammoth has a ground eye in correct position. The sculpture stands upright in correct orientation.

    Anthropomorphic face in left profile on the front of the mammoth

    Faint traces of another face which may have been pigmented. I think it is a quasi-feline face where the mammoth's head bump and eye become the right ear of the cat. Its left ear is out of sight in this perspective.

    Mammoth illustrated

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    Jason Lamont find, Hardin County, Tennessee

    Jason identified this rock as having artificial incised lines running vertically when the stone is in standing position. Jason identified another incised stone which has been interpreted as a mammoth and human combination.

    'Feline head facing left'

    Side 2. I interpret this incised piece to also be a figurative representation of a mammoth body facing right and a feline head facing left. The photo here provides a nice perspective on the feline head. The cat's ear is at the top edge of the photo. The cat's ear is also the 'head bump' of the mammoth. This feline and mammoth combinatopn motif is seen in other North American examples and in this megalithic landscape rock art sculpture in Virginia. 

    Feline head facing left and a profile of a mammoth body facing right. The illustration locates stone features serving as the 'eyes' of the feline and the mammoth. The 'mouth' of the cat is in red. Click photos to expand.

    A second stone with incised lines and selected removals was found along with the incised mammoth and feline combination. Jason Lamont finds.

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    Ken Johnston find, Licking County, Ohio. 9cm, Vanport chert

    The bird balances delicately on a worked tripod base on a flat surface. Found in an area which has produced several flint bird and bird head figures already featured on this blog.

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    'Human head right profile (with 'hair')
    Henri Valentie collection, Île d'Oléron, France

    The right edge in this view has several flake removals to affect the appearance of a human face profile. From a Lower Paleolithic site in the French Pyrenees producing art and tools.

    Henri Valentie writes "I found this on the same site as the piece already published in the blog November 7, 2014. I find a resemblance with 2 heads. The first photo shows part which is dotted. Perhaps have they attempted to create a hairstyle? The stone is 23/20/15 cm."

    When the sculpture is rotated the opposite side expresses the Paleolithic art motif 'human head two-faced' described by Pietro Gaietto. The two faces are in profile looking right and left.

    The face looking right is composed entirely of a bird figure with a bulging breast. The breast of the bird is in an egg form and also serves as the chin of the human.

    Arrows depict approximate lines of sight from the two face profiles. Illustration of a recessive, squared off chin at left and a rounded protruding chin on the face at right. Gaietto has written that the two faced sculptures may sometimes be depicting two kinds of people, more robust, archaic humans and anatomically modern humans for example. I think that is the case in this example.

    Ken Johnston interpretation of the bird and egg forms composing the face looking right. Two breaks have been made to make the bird's 'tail feathers' and two incised lines converge to form the point of the bird's 'beak.'

    This sculpture is displaying the previously described motif of a 'human face with a symbolic egg-chin.' I have hypothesized that the rounded, protruding egg-like chin seen in anatomically modern humans but no other hominins has resulted from genetic influence from a long-running cultural imperative to selectively favor mates with chins resembling a "cosmic bird egg."

    December 2015 Paper: Ontogeny of the maxilla in Neanderthals and their ancestors

    Abstract: Neanderthals had large and projecting (prognathic) faces similar to those of their putative ancestors from Sima de los Huesos (SH) and different from the retracted modern human face. When such differences arose during development and the morphogenetic modifications involved are unknown. We show that maxillary growth remodelling (bone formation and resorption) of the Devil’s Tower (Gibraltar 2) and La Quina 18 Neanderthals and four SH hominins, all sub-adults, show extensive bone deposition, whereas in modern humans extensive osteoclastic bone resorption is found in the same regions. This morphogenetic difference is evident by ~5 years of age. Modern human faces are distinct from those of the Neanderthal and SH fossils in part because their postnatal growth processes differ markedly. The growth remodelling identified in these fossil hominins is shared with Australopithecus and early Homo but not with modern humans suggesting that the modern human face is developmentally derived (emphasis added by Ken Johnston, Archaeology of Portable Rock Art).

    Paper: Facial prognathism in the hominid and human species

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    'Human head effigy with neck facing left'
    From Normandy, West of Paris Basin

    France Mousterian industry 'scraper' includes human head effigy with face profiles on its edges. This is a presumed Neanderthal piece of figurative art. Many other iconic tool examples exist in private and museum collections but have yet to be identified because no one ever considered the possibility of their existence. Neanderthal figurative sculpture behavior could be established in short order if archaeologists just look carefully at artifacts already above the ground.

    Detail of the 'eye' feature on photo 1 shows human attention to distress the surface of the flint

    'Human head effigy with neck facing right' on France Mousterian 'scraper' This face on the opposite side has a forehead, eye, nose, mouth, chin and neck.

    This is also a bird figure where the bird's breast is the chin of the human. This piece may be displaying the motif of the 'symbolic cosmic egg-chin' as seen in the prior posting.

    'Human head left 3/4 profile, tongue sticking out'

    When the breast of the bird, also an egg-like form, is isolated and rotated 90 degrees right, the elements of a human head worked in great detail in the flint may be observed. It appears the person's tongue is sticking out or he has something in his mouth. This bird-breast, egg-shape and human face combination suggests the making of a symbolic cosmic egg.

    Most interestingly, the larger face on the edge and the small head on the egg form share the same stone feature as their mouths.

    The question for Archaeology is "How many Lower and Middle Paleolithic artifacts currently classified as tools include art or are exclusively art objects?"

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    "All seeing eye" portable rock art find by Ahmed Aggag, Cairo, Egypt
    Ahmed Aggag found this stone 20 years ago at age 10 and has kept it since then. It appears to have been a mimetolith, or a rock resembling something else. In this case, the stone's formation resembled a human eye. It has been incised with a number of lines forming a simple hash pattern so it is an artifact and the likeness to an eye was likely appreciated and enhanced by its maker.  The lines appear like 'eye lashes' on the two eye figures.

    Although I cannot confirm from the photos, it looks like the irises could have been created by application of a black pigment to the stone. Interestingly, the iris on Side 2 seems to be in an octagon shape, with eight definable segments which create the roundness.

    This stone eye could have been an amulet in the Egyptian mythic tradition of "The Eye of Horus" or the "All Seeing Eye."

    Side 2 of the stone also resembles an eye. The iris has eight sides.

    Incised lines on the eye confirm its status as an artifact

    Mr. Aggag's eye stone with (cm) scale

     Examples of eye figures from the Cairo Museum provided by Ahmed Aggag

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